Hidden in the middle of suburban North Ryde lies one of Sydney’s most environmentally sensitive areas: The Field of Mars Ecological Habitat. 51 hectares of lush nature reserve. A sanctuary for rare fauna and flora, and a focal point for thousands of birds during migrating season.

The City of Ryde operates an amazing environmental education centre on the reserve, catering to schools and nature lovers from the general public. It’s a popular destination, but the existing boardwalk traversing the reserve had never actually been completed properly. And what had been completed had fallen to pieces. So council needed to replace the whole thing.

Fleetwood won a competitive tender process to design and construct a new walkway (and to demolish the old one). A low-key boardwalk designed using materials that could endure a constantly damp – sometimes underwater - environment.

Of course, in an environmentally sensitive, swampy, damp and dark natural reserve, appearance and materials are only part of the puzzle. Access poses an even bigger challenge, as you can’t simply roll in the heavy machinery and get to work. Council required a solution that would last and could be installed without damaging the sensitive surrounds.

This meant we needed to innovate. We needed strong materials that wouldn’t rot or warp, but which were also light enough to install without heavy machinery.

In the end, we developed a solution that could be ‘walked in’. An 800m elevated riparian access structure, made almost entirely from fibreglass. Supports, headstocks, joists and decking – all Fibre Reinforced Plastic (FRP). The only non-fibreglass elements were the stainless steel fixings and a couple of galvanised handrails.

Then we developed cost-effective systems to install it. Among them, specialist piling tools that eliminate the need for a piling rig or excavation machine to dig foundations. (We now use these piling tools in many of our projects, with no rollout overhead.)

The end result? Students and visitors can now walk the entire length of the reserve without harming the growth or disturbing the natural habitat. And council can rest easy in the knowledge that it’s built to handle the elements. (In fact, it’s already withstood intense flooding on several occasions since installation.)

All for a fixed budget of $700,000, and delivered with no damage to the surrounding environment. Needless to say, council was very pleased with the project, and has subsequently contracted us to complete two additional stages of the boardwalk.